Controversial exiled Chinese billionaire Guo Wengui — an associate of former Trump White House advisor Steve Bannon — was arrested Wednesday in New York for allegedly orchestrating a complex $1 billion fraud scheme that duped online followers with promises of outsized investment returns.
Guo allegedly used some of the money raised through his company GTV Media and other entities to buy a 50,000-square foot New Jersey mansion, a $37 million yacht, a $3.5 million Ferrari for his son, a $140,000 Bosendorfer piano and two Hasten 2000T mattresses that cost a whopping $36,000 apiece.
Prosecutors seized more than $650 million in alleged fraud proceeds from 21 different bank accounts and assets that included a Lamborghini Aventador SVJ Roadster automobile as part of the case against Guo and his financial advisor William Je in Manhattan federal court.
Guo, 52, pleaded not guilty Wednesday afternoon in Manhattan. He postponed a bail application until his lawyers return from out of town. A public defender who handled the hearing for Guo had no comment.
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A fire broke out as FBI agents searched a Manhattan penthouse apartment owned by Guo on Wednesday, an agency spokesperson said. The agents noticed smoke coming from a light fixture and called 911 around noon ET.
The New York Fire Department extinguished the blaze at luxury Sherry-Netherland building, the cause of which is under investigation by a bomb squad. Guo was in custody before the fire started.
The Securities and Exchange Commission separately filed a related civil complaint against Guo and the 56-year-old Je, a resident of the United Kingdom and Hong Kong who remains at large. The SEC accuses Guo and Je of involvement in unregistered and fraudulent financial offerings.
The SEC separately accused Guo of making misrepresentations in raising hundreds of millions of dollars from investors through a cryptocurrency asset known as H-Coin.
Last September, three companies linked to Guo, including GTV Media, agreed to pay nearly $540 million to settle civil allegations by the SEC of making illegal offerings of stock and digital assets.
Guo, who is known by multiple different names, including Miles Guo and Miles Kwok, Brother Seven, and The Principal, has lived in the United States since 2015 after fleeing China, reportedly to duck looming corruption charges.
In 2018, he founded two nonprofit organizations, the Rule of Law Foundation and the Rule of Law Society, which engaged in a public relations campaign against the Chinese Communist Party.
Guo “used the nonprofit organizations to amass followers who were aligned with his purported policy objectives in China and who were also inclined to believe [Guo’s] statements regarding investment and money-making opportunities,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York said in a statement on the criminal case.
Bannon, who served former President Donald Trump as senior White House advisor for less than a year, at one point was on the board of directors of the Rule of Law Society.
In June 2021, Guo’s two nonprofits hosted a private party in New York attended by Bannon, former Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani, former Trump national security advisor Michael Flynn, and the Trump ally and conspiracy theorist Mike Lindell, CEO of MyPillow.
In August 2020, federal authorities arrested Bannon on a mega-yacht belonging to Guo off the coast of Connecticut on charges related to siphoning off money for the “We Build the Wall” fundraising campaign. Months later, shortly before Trump left office, he pardoned Bannon in that case.
Last month, a lawyer for Hunter Biden, the son of President Joe Biden, sent Guo a letter demanding he retain any records related to Hunter Biden. The letter was sent two months after Mother Jones magazine detailed how Bannon, while working with Giuliani, had “arranged for Guo and his followers to spread salacious videos and pictures from Hunter Biden’s laptop,” which was obtained from a Delaware computer repair shop.
A 12-count grand jury criminal indictment unsealed Wednesday alleges that Guo and Je “conspired to defraud thousands of victims” in the scheme, which spanned from 2018 to this month.
The alleged conspiracy involved the use of different entities and programs to obtain investments from the victims, who were deceived by misrepresentations and false statements, prosecutors said.
“Kwok lied to his victims and promised them outsized returns if they invested, or provided money to, GTV [Media], his so-called Himalaya Farm Alliance, G|CLUBS, and the Himalaya Exchange,” prosecutors said in a press release.
Guo and Je are charged with wire fraud, securities fraud, bank fraud and money laundering.
Je also is charged with obstruction of justice for allegedly trying to transfer money related to the conspiracy to the United Arab Emirates since last September, after U.S. authorities served seizure warrants on several banks to seize about $355 million of proceeds from the alleged fraud.
Both Guo and Je face possible sentences of up to 20 years in prison if convicted in the criminal case.
Gurbir Grewal, director of the SEC’s enforcement division, called Guo “a serial fraudster, who raised more than $850 million by promising investors outsized returns on purported crypto, technology and luxury good investment opportunities.”
“In reality, Guo took advantage of the hype and allure surrounding crypto and other investments to victimize thousands and fund his and his family’s lavish lifestyle,” Grewal said.
The SEC’s complaint said that one example of Guo and Je’s alleged fraud was a private placement offering of common stock in GTV Media Group.
“Guo and Je allegedly diverted $100 million of investor funds to a hedge fund for the sole benefit of a company that is owned by Guo’s son,” the SEC said.
And Guo allegedly misappropriated investor proceeds in two other offerings to pay more than $40 million to buy and renovate the New Jersey mansion, and to buy the Ferrari for his son, the SEC said.
— WNBC’s Jonathan Dienst contributed reporting